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Bridge Reopened to So. Padre Island

November 21, 2001

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (AP) _ The only bridge linking South Padre Island to the rest of Texas was reopened Wednesday, two months after a tug boat and barges knocked out a 240-foot chunk in an accident that killed eight people.

Gov. Rick Perry cut a ceremonial ribbon to celebrate the reopening of the Queen Isabella Causeway with thousands of residents. The $4.3 million reconstruction project was completed a month ahead of schedule.

The opening was greeted enthusiastically by residents who have been forced to take ferries to the mainland.

``I wish I could be the first one to cross in my motorcycle,″ said Fidel Garza of Port Isabel.

The midsection of the four-lane bridge was destroyed Sept. 15 when a tug boat with four barges slammed into a bridge support. The accident sent cars plummeting 85 feet into the water below.

The accident was caused in part by an unusually strong current that swept the barges off course, according to testimony at a Coast Guard hearing last month.

The collapse hurt the economy of the resort island, with the governor’s office estimating that 5,600 employees and nearly 2,400 businesses were affected. The economic impact was estimated at $45 million to $55 million had the causeway remained closed until Dec. 23, as originally planned.

Free passenger and vehicle ferry services kept the island going after the collapse, but those will be shut down by Monday, Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa said.

The National Highway Administration said it will reimburse state and local governments $10 million for the ferries, shuttle buses and other transportation services. However, the federal government decided not to provide disaster unemployment assistance to the area.

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On the Net:

South Padre Island: http://www.sopadre.com

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